Mixed Emotions

DJ Music Builds Its Way Out of the Velvet-Rope Underground

Digweed, a native of Hastings, England, who has spun at New York's Twilo for two and a half years now, is as determined as Warren, but more playful. Along with the Northern Exposurecollections he has released with his sometime collaborator DJ Sasha, he is best known for the track his label/club/collective Bedrock did with KYO, "For What You Dream Of," which appeared on the '96 Trainspottingsoundtrack, the DJ Saturday Night Fever. That strange piece of music, a midtempo beat fantasia in which melody falls in and out of harmonic keyboard scaffolding and repeated bass thumps as though it is neither irrelevant nor central to anything, still provides a good blueprint of Digweed's unbothered manner. The same lithe perfection informs "Heaven Scent," the track that leads Foundations(Pioneer), a collection of Digweed's Bedrock singles. This is dance music that wants you to feel its emotional construction, not memorize or hum it. The effect's like getting lost but feeling inexplicably at home, somehow, spiritually, in a particular lobby or landing.

Los Angelesfinds Digweed spinning last October at the Mayan Theater. He begins with a somewhat leisurely record by Pole Finder & CP entitled "Apollo Vibes" in which the tranquil voice of a space station control worker announces things like "We're predicting third-stage shutdown at 11 minutes, 42 seconds" while the piece's effortlessly elastic beat keeps slowly rubber-banding around. Before it can end, though, Digweed segues into Satoshi Tomie's "Love in Traffic," wherein slightly ominous, submerged female soul voices hold forth on vehicular passion, as a heartbeat pumps. Of course this pairing of futurism and automobiles is apropos for L.A., and from there Digweed spins endless variations on sound and silence, compression and release, space and sculpture. As on 1999's Bedrock, where he unhesitatingly pulled out C12 featuring Jole's spectacularly hooky "Judy," a tale of a young drug abuser that seemed almost old-fashioned with its winning lack of abstraction, on Los Angeleshe brings on Medway's "My Release," in which voices never explain the nature of their release, but the totally fast and involving beats tell the story.

These DJ excursions are useful—especially good for long drives and runs in the country. Yet I wonder where they'll go beyond the austere realm of trance. It's not as if DJ—a form, after all, whose deepest roots are in partying—can't be a barrel of monkeys. From Holland recently comes a curious item called Mixed Up in the Hague Vol. 1: Special Sequence Mixed for Dancing(Panama), by I-f, who a couple of years ago released a genius single entitled "Space Invaders Are Smoking Grass," which was like electro unbound by slightly rotten techno-tubbies. I-f on Haguereturns to that language but with more force and less fizz, weaving together candy choruses, brazen Moroder lines, snappy little Bee Gee samples, and anything else tough and kicky. Lots of times he'll let a keyboard synth sing like it's a pop tenor or Kenny G's sax. But the flow never stops, always taking your ears along for the ride. I'd book him in Cairo.

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